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"KING, AGRIPPA, DO YOU BELIEVE THE PROPHETS?  I KNOW YOU DO.
THEN AGRIPPA SAID TO PAUL, 'DO YOU THINK THAT IN SUCH A
SHORT TIME YOU CAN PERSUADE ME TO BE A CHRISTIAN'?"
ACTS 26: 27-28

                                                                           

Holy Sites -- Gila's Highlights

Let's emphathize with Paul in Caesarea's hippodrome

 

When Paul, a native of Tarsus located in modern-day Turkey, approached Caesarea, his eyes may have been momentarily dazzled by the gleaming white marble temple supported by rose granite columns.  Some decades earlier, Caesarea’s pagan temple had been erected on a huge artificial platform by Herod the Great Builder.  But such magnificent works of art and symmetry did not distract Paul in the least.

He was a man on a mission.  With fire in his belly.  It was at Caesarea that Paul bonded with the evangelist Philip whom he had once persecuted and driven out of Jerusalem.  Now they were friends and fellow-believers.
 

Caesarea by the sea

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

View of Caesarea with the arena of the hippodrome on the right

 

The day of Pentecost was imminent and Paul departed for the Holy City of Jerusalem.  During a visit to the Temple, he was attacked by an enraged mob and dragged out of the sacred precinct.  Paul was rescued by a Roman officer and given permission to address the rabble-rousers.  Paul told them how he had once been just as zealous as they were, until he was blinded on the road to Damascus. (Acts 22)
 

Model of the Temple courtyard where Paul was arrested

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Model of the Temple courtyard in Jerusalem where Paul was arrested

 
When the mob lunged for Paul once again, the tribune ordered he be arrested and brought into the barracks for flogging and interrogation.  Paul insisted upon his right as a Roman citizen for a fair trial first, before being bound.  To insure Paul’s safety, the Roman commander organized an armed guard of 200 soldiers, 70 cavalry and 200 spearmen to transport Paul under cover of darkness to Caesarea to the Roman governor, Felix.
 
Felix promised Paul a hearing and ordered that he be kept under guard in Herod’s praetorium, probably in the palace built on a promontory by the sea.  Imprisoned for two years, Paul was occasionally called before Felix for further questioning.  It was obvious that Felix was waiting for his palms to be greased.  In today’s Middle East this type of bribe is called baksheesh.  (It’s a handy term to know on a Holy Land pilgrimage!)
 
Felix was eventually replaced by Festus who consulted with King Agrippa and Bernice about resolving Paul’s case.  Agrippa decided he would like to hear Paul himself.  It was in the audience hall in the palace, or perhaps in the theater or hippodrome that Paul passionately defended his beliefs.  So moved was King Agrippa, that he would have freed him on the spot had Paul not appealed to Caesar for trial in Rome. (Acts 26:32)
 

Caesarea aqueduct from the time of Paul

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Caesarea aqueduct from the time of Paul

 
A great place to retell Paul’s story and even recite his passionate speech is in Caesarea’s 2,000-year-old hippodrome.  The hippodrome was a racetrack for horses and chariots built by Herod the Great.  (Hippo is Greek for horse and drome is Greek for racetrack.)  Although immediately adjacent to Herod’s palace and next to the theater, the hippodrome was only discovered in 1992!  On its eastern side all twelve original rows of seats and aisles are still in place.
 

Seats of the 2000-year-old hippodrome at Caesarea

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Seats of the 2.000-year-old hippodrome at Caesarea

 
During the time of Paul, chariot-racing was the most popular form of public entertainment in the Roman Empire.  Roman passions ran high when it came to chariot-racing and frequently revolts broke out in the hippodrome.  The charioteer drove standing upright in his chariot, wearing a light helmet and a belted tunic in the color of his team -- white, scarlet, sea blue or leek green.  Eventually these colors came to be identified with political parties.
 
The chariots were built as light as possible, purely for speed and were drawn by two or four horses.  Sometimes even more.  The larger the teams of horses, the more expert the driver needed to be.  The public adored the top drivers -- they were comparable to our modern day million-dollar athletes.
 
The VIP spectators sat where the arena sloped at an angle where crashes were frequent and spectacular.  When we are on tour at Caesarea, we may even sit in the VIP section.  I’ll show you where the spina was, the decorative wall in the middle of the arena which had a device like an abacus to count the laps and red cones to stimulate the horses.
 
The race usually consisted of seven laps.  The first to complete all seven was declared the winner. During the time Augustus ruled in Rome, there were often as many as twelve races a day.  During the time of Paul, there could be as many as twenty-four!
 

Behind the hippodrome was the governor's palace

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

SW corner of hippodrome with the Roman governor's palace towards the sea

 
I’ve found that especially in the winter months when the more-crowded theater closes early, the hippodrome with its spectacular view of the Mediterranean Sea framed by the southern breakwater of Herod’s port is an inspiring and relaxing venue for the Paul story.  Here our minds can wander freely around the outsized personality of Paul.
 
We can be amazed at his missionary zeal despite a multitude of earthly challenges and a milieu of pagan temptations.  And he could have, with characteristic charisma and confidence, appeared before Agrippa right where we are sitting, before being sent off to Rome!

 

Not only Paul, but Peter, Pilate, Philip and Cornelius all spent time in Caesarea.  You will be blessed if you give Caesarea the time that it deserves on your next pilgrimage.
 

Crusader walls enclose the port area from Paul's day

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Crusader walls enclosing port area from Paul's day

 

Copyright 2009, 2012 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

 
Gila Yudkin, who has been guiding for more than three decades, witnessed the excavation of Caesarea’s hippodrome, week by week.  She and her groups frequently interviewed the immigrant diggers and she herself has gone on numerous tours with the archeologists.  She’d be delighted to share her knowledge, passion for archeology and sense of fun with you and your friends during your next tour. 
 

When Mark Twain visited the Holy Land in 1867, Caesarea was not on his itinerary, for nothing had yet been unearthed.  If you are a Mark Twain fan, you may enjoy his tips for Holy Land pilgrims illustrated by modern day photos.

 

COMING TO JERUSALEM? 
BOOK GILA for a customized private tour

 

More Biblical archeology:

 

Let's talk about Armageddon at Megiddo

Let's gather by Bethsaida's city gate

Let's see where the Priestly Benediction was found

Armageddon / Megiddo  

1st C AD Bethsaida

Priestly benediction

     

Let's consider whether Jesus ever visited Sepphoris

Let's ramble through Hippos, a Decapolis city

Let's orient ourselves to Jesus' Jerusalem

Sepphoris Theater     

Hippos / Decapolis city

Model of Jesus' Jerusalem

 
 
Tour the Temple Mount in Jerusalem with Gila's MP3 audio tour in the company of Abraham and Isaac, David and Solomon, Jesus and the disciples, the angel Gabriel and Mohammed.  Meet many other luminaries, both real and legendary.

Now also available as a written 24-page PDF with a Temple Mount plan, guidelines for passing the security check and the ten best reads on the Temple Mount from Gila's bookshelves.


GILA YUDKIN TCHERNIKOVSKI 64A JERUSALEM ISRAEL
gila@itsgila.com

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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin